I love butter and sugar.

Archive for May 2009

Amandines A L'Anciennes

I’ve recently become a happy and proud recipient of a five-pound bag of California-grown almonds, courtesy of Blueberry and his much beloved Costco membership. Stores that we love and will continue to love include Trader Joe’s, Costco, and any place that sells 83 percent-plus butterfat butter/Mariage Frères tea (me) or the purest, fruitiest Italian olive oils (Blueberry).

Mixing 3 ingredients

I’ve always loved almonds, particularly right after they’ve been toasted and the air is filled with a subtle, sweet, nutty aroma. They are one of the most versatile nuts for baking and pair amazingly well with almost every fruit imaginable. They are amazing whole, sliced, ground, chopped, and somehow they always look so elegant just simply on their own. It’s like they were meant to be showcased in dessert.

Four ingredient batter

Today I’m not really going to wow anyone with the dessert that I’ve made with a small part of that five-pound bag – I actually wanted to make something simple with just a few ingredients to allow that pure almond flavor to really shine through. The first dessert that came to mind was the old-fashioned almond cookie made the French way with only three ingredients: almonds, sugar, and egg whites.

This cookie is like the French macaron’s far less fussy sister – yes, it uses ground almonds, but it doesn’t need any piping from a pastry bag, nor do the cookie drops need to rest and develop a skin before baking the way a traditional macaron would. You don’t even need an electric mixer or a whisk – just a fork to stir together the ingredients and you’d be good to go. I’ve copied the recipe below from the book, but what I actually did was I ground the almonds in a food processor, then mixed that in a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon, and egg whites. I did this because my food processor wasn’t big enough, but if you’d like, you could just follow the recipe’s directions. I also adjusted the sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup, but I used 2/3 cup).

Batter on parchment paper on baking sheets

I found these cookies in a popular dessert book put together by Dorie Greenspan, who gallivanted all over Paris to find the most exquisite and loved desserts that the city of love (and sweets) had to offer. This recipe is from Arnaud Larher’s patisserie, where the batter is used to not only make these cookies but also to fill tartlets. Greenspan suggests either eating them au naturel or flavored with a little cinnamon, cocoa, or nuts. This time around I decided to add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to the mix, and I loved it (and so did Blueberry). They go great with coffee, tea, or just plain by themselves. This is as pure as an almond cookie can get.

Plated almond cookies

Old-Fashioned Almond Cookies (Amandines à L’Anciennes)
From Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets
Makes about 24 cookies

  • 8½ ounces (just under 2 cups) toasted and blanched almonds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 3 tablespoons (20 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, and/or 1 cup (50 grams) finely chopped pecans, to flavor (optional)
  • 3 large egg whites, lightly beaten with a fork

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and keep them close at hand.

Put the almonds and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl now and then, until the almonds are finely ground, about 2 minutes. If you are using cinnamon or cocoa, put it in now and pulse to blend. If you are using chopped pecans, wait to add them after all the other ingredients have been added.

With the processor running, add the egg whites in a steady stream. Mix about 30 seconds, only until the egg whites are blended into the almonds and sugar— you don’t want to incorporate too much air into the batter. Add the pecans, if you are using them, and pulse just to mix.

Spoon out a level tablespoon of batter for each cookie, spacing the cookies about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the lined baking sheets. Slide the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back and top to bottom at the halfway point. The cookies should puff, firm, and turn lightly brown around the edges. With a wide metal spatula, carefully lift the cookies off the baking sheets and onto cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Advertisements

tomato egg drop soup

One of the fondest childhood food memories I have is eating stir-fried tomato and egg made by my grandma. It’s one of the Chinese comfort food staples that is often made at home, particularly when time is not plentiful and stomachs are growling for food as soon as possible. It’s simple, fast, and light, and assuming you use fresh, fragrant, bright red tomatoes, the pure flavors of the tomatoes and eggs really shine through with just the right amount of seasonings.

ground turkey (substitute)

Although I have always loved stir-fried tomato and egg, once my grandma died when I was about nine years old, I suddenly forgot that I ever ate it. After her passing, no one ever made it for me again, and it was as though the dish had died with her. It seemed like life had always been this way — empty and without one of my favorite foods, my beloved fan qie chao dan (番茄炒蛋).

Then I went to China 11 years later, and it was appearing at restaurant tables everywhere I ate. And as soon as I saw it, it was as though a light bulb had popped into my head, blinking and screaming, “you used to eat this, remember? How the heck did you forget?” One bite (and then a hundred later), and I had fallen in love all over again with the simplicity and purity of the dish. I was home again with my grandma.

Cooking the onions first

Comfort foods like tomato and egg often have different variations within the culture and in surrounding regions, and one that I have recently found and enjoyed has been Andrea Nguyen’s tomato egg drop soup. In Into The Vietnamese Kitchen, Nguyen discusses the origins and influences of many Vietnamese dishes, and it’s no doubt that many Vietnamese traditions and foods have strong Chinese influences.

The ingredients for the recipe are incredibly simple, little more than tomatoes, eggs, onions, and of course, a key Vietnamese ingredient that makes this soup Vietnamese, fish sauce. My favorite brand of Vietnamese fish sauce is this Three Crabs brand. Apparently the employees (who are not Vietnamese) at Hong Kong Supermarket near my apartment even know about this stuff; as I picked up a bottle of it in one of the aisles, one of the Chinese guys goes nuts and starts raving and raving about it in Chinese and how it’s the best of the best! I knew that already, though.

Three Crabs brand fish sauce

Use the freshest, reddest, most fragrant tomatoes you can find. If it smells like a tomato, then it will taste like a tomato. I’ve really been upset at the tomato industry for producing such tasteless “tomatoes” and almost gave up until my roommate Kumquat came home with some red beauties from Trader Joe’s. Thanks to her, I’m currently in love with these TJ’s baby Roma tomatoes. They are small, cute, and blazing red. The last two times I’ve made a trip there, I’ve left with at least three to four boxes of these babies. What can I say — I’m a fan.

TJ's baby roma tomatoes - the best!

Lastly, if you don’t have ground pork on hand (and I usually don’t), ground turkey makes a fine substitute. This soup really embodies the pure flavors of the egg and tomato. Adding the egg at the end lends the soup a really satisfying richness, as does the ground pork. It’s a healthy and refreshing first course to a multi-course Vietnamese dinner.

Stewing the tomatoes and onions

Tomato Egg Drop Soup / Canh cà chua trứng
Adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen
Serves 4 to 6 with 2 or 3 other dishes

•    1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
•    1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
•    3/4 pound very ripe tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
•    3/4 teaspoon salt
•    1/3 pound ground pork coarsely chopped to loosen
•    4 cups water
•    2 eggs, beaten
•    5-6 springs cilantro, coarsely chopped for garnish (optional)
•    Black or white pepper

In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about four minutes, or until fragrant and soft. Add the tomatoes and salt, cover, and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the tomatoes have collapsed into a thick mixture. Stir occasionally and, if necessary, lower the heat to prevent the tomatoes from sticking or scorching.

Uncover and add the fish sauce and pork. Wield chopsticks or use a spoon to move the pork around the pan so that it breaks up into small pieces. This will make it possible to distribute the pork evenly among the bowls when serving. Add the water, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, using a ladle to skim and discard any scum that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the flavors have developed and concentrated sufficiently to produce a rich broth. If you are not serving the soup right away, turn off the heat and cover.

Just before serving, return the soup to a simmer. Taste and add extra salt or fish sauce, if necessary. Turn off the heat. Pour the beaten egg onto the soup in a wide circle, and then stir gently to break it up into chiffon-like pieces. Ladle the soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with the cilantro and a generous sprinkle of pepper and serve immediately.

Fresh blueberry buttermilk pancakes

I have always loved breakfast foods — the classic American ones that include omelettes and pancakes, ethnic morning nourishments like jook (rice porridge) and freshly pressed soybean milk, and the rich, decadent ones, like a simple cafe au lait and un pain au chocolat. As the first meal of the day, breakfast should be a cherished meal, one that makes you think, “Mmm, it’s great to be alive and start the day!” It sounds corny, but I really believe it.

Pancake ingredients

Too often people succumb to forgetting about breakfast, insisting that they don’t need to eat before they rush out the door, or just grabbing a cereal bar (I hate these!) or a banana (well, this is better since it’s a fruit). I’m not going to lie; most times when I haven’t had enough sleep and am in a hurry to get to work, I just eat a bowl of Kashi cereal, a banana, and leave the apartment. Why would I set aside 45 minutes of precious sleep in the morning to prepare steel-cut oats?

Incorporating dry ingredients with wet ingredients

But then I stumbled upon an article in a recent issue of Gourmet magazine that raved about a cookbook that was all about the first meal of the day. In The Breakfast Book, Marion Cunningham, in her own, tantalizing way, makes a case for breakfast and why we shouldn’t forgo the most important meal of the day. She includes a large array of recipes, including quick breads and yeast breads, custards and puddings (yes, for breakfast!), and of course, the beloved pancakes.

Frozen wild Boreal blueberries

I have tried about seven different pancake recipes from this book, and I will say now that all of them were delicious and incredibly simple. Contrary to popular belief, preparing your own pancake batter is very simple and easy, and if you prepare the batter the night before, which I’d recommend, it would even be easier than using a mix. And the taste of a pancake from a mix could never be compared to that made from scratch, but that should go without saying (no offense to those of you who are IHOP fans).

Bubbly on the top means ready for flipping

Of all of the pancake recipes I tried from the book, I must say that my favorite is not terribly unique or exotic – they’re the classic buttermilk pancakes. I guess some things are classic for a reason; they have just the right tang from the sour buttermilk and are soft, fluffy, and perfect with pure maple syrup. Cunningham’s recipe doesn’t use any sugar, but I like to add about two teaspoons for a very subtle sweetness. Blueberries make these pancakes even better; I use the frozen wild Boreal blueberries from Trader Joe’s since fresh blueberries are not in season right now. The easiest way to add berries to the pancakes is to add them as the first side of the pancake is being cooked. Once you see bubbles forming on the pancake tops, lightly sprinkle the blueberries evenly on top.

Adding the blueberries

Another tip for the pancakes: to ensure a light and fluffy texture, do not over-mix the batter. You want to mix the wet and the dry ingredients until just incorporated. If you see lumps, you can jump up and down in giggly glee because your pancake batter is good to go. This pancake recipe is perfect for making ahead of time — it keeps in the refrigerator for days.

pancakes - almost ready for eating

Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberries
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book
Yields about 9 pancakes

•    1 cup buttermilk
•    1 egg, room temperature
•    3 tablespoons melted butter, slightly cooled
•    3/4 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour)
•    1/2 teaspoon salt
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    2 teaspoons sugar
•    1/2 cup blueberries

Place the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir briskly until the mixture is smooth and blended.

Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar into the buttermilk mixture only until the dry ingredients are moistened — remember to leave lumps, and do not over-mix.

Grease the skillet lightly with butter and set to medium heat. Spoon out about 2 generous tablespoons per pancake. After about 1-2 minutes, you will see bubbles beginning to form on the pancake tops. Gently sprinkle blueberries on top of the pancakes and push down lightly. Then gently flip over with a spatula and cook the other side for about 1-2 minutes.

Serve with pure maple syrup and additional blueberries.


Advertisements

  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)

Categories